Amonkhet is here, and it's time to think about the new Standard. There's one card that particularly stands out to me to build around: Drake Haven.
Historically, token generators that cost mana to activate haven't been great (The Hive being the mother of them all). However, token generator that didn't cost mana have been great: Bitterblossom, Goblin Rabblemaster, Zombie Infestation (my personal favorite), and a lot of planeswalkers. Will Drake Haven be part of the bad category because you have to pay to generate tokens? Or will the one mana to activate be low enough to make this card great?
It isn't a card you can add in any deck as a haymaker against control decks, as token generators are usually been known to be. Instead, it's a build-around card that goes with self-discard or cycling.
Cycling was a powerful strategy back in 2003 and 2004 when Astral Slide was around. Osyp Lebedowicz won Pro Tour Venice with White-Red Cycle using Lightning Rift and Astral Slide. Julien Nuijten played White-Green Cycling to win Worlds in San Francisco.
Drake Haven is not Astral Slide: it doesn't blink your Eternal Witness or allow you to unmorph your Exalted Angel, or help to clear the board of opposing creatures. Cycling takes time if you only play cycling spells, and if you don't have a Drake Haven in play, you might just lose to a fast draw while the only thing you did was cycle every turn. You don't have a Lightning Rift to deal with your opponent's creatures. So we have to think of different ways to build dedicated cycling decks with Drake Haven or turn to self-discard strategies.
I can see a few decks that will play a couple of them because they're running cycling lands. This is not what I'm going to do today. My lists will focus on making drakes will try to abuse it as much as possible.
The first idea that came to mind was to include Drake Haven in Red-Blue Zombies, the deck our team played in Hawaii, and later advocated by Steve Rubin. Zombies has a built-in discard outlet with Tormenting Voice, Cathartic Reunion, Lightning Axe and both Sitchies (Stitchwing Skaab and Advanced Stitchwing).
Just a quick note about the initial changes: there's no Elder Deep-Fiend (and Eldrazi package because it feels like the deck would benefit from smoother draws and therefore more cycling cards to go with Drake Haven. There's also no Fevered Visions; bans haven't been announced yet, and this card isn't good at all against either Mardu or Saheeli.
Three cards made their debut: Drake Haven, Censor and Compelling Argument.
Drake Haven can be pretty slow; on turn three, it does virtually nothing. But if you have time to activate it a couple of times, it will take over the game. What makes it so good is that it will never be a dead card. As long as it's a card that you can pitch to Lightning Axe, the Stitches or the red sorceries, it will be okay. And it doesn't matter too much if you draw multiples: you can pitch one if you don't need it, or play a second one and get double Drakes.
On a good draw, you discard a Stitchie on turn two with a Tormenting Voice, play Drake Haven on turn three, bring the Stitchie back on turn four and make two Drakes. If you're lucky, you'll bring a Prized Amalgam in the process, and you'll probably make two more Drakes again on the following turn with another Stitchie. It answers a problem the deck has struggles with, which is being able to play untapped blockers.
Censor is a card I already love and it's a great addition here. On the draw, when playing a Reunion would put you too far behind, you can keep your mana up and counter your opponent's third turn play. If they have nothing to do, you can always cycle it. Then on turn three, play Drake Haven, and your Reunion on turn four, making two Drakes in the process. Negate was a fine sideboard card, but sometimes it would get stuck in your hand and slow down your strategy. Censor is far from being a hard counter, but it has to potential to counter everything, especially in the early game.
Compelling Argument is a card I'd like to try in this deck. Its cycling ability makes it an easy include as it won't hurt your draws and it will help you find Zombies to put in your graveyard. As for cycling lands, the deck might require a couple, though I'm not sure having either a cycling Mountain or Island that comes into the battlefield tapped is worth it (had it been a Blue-Red cycling land, there wouldn't have been any question.)
Whether this package is better than the Eldrazi package is arguable, but it's one of the first things I'll try when the set comes out.
Blue-Black Zombies got a big boost from Amonkhet: Dread Wanderer is a great addition to the mix. The deck was lacking a strong early drop; Relentless Dead never really there and Cryptbreaker was the only good one-drop available. Dread Wanderer is a 2/1 for one black mana (so far, so good), it's a Zombie (even better as it helps Cryptbreaker) and its self-reanimation effect isn't too hard to activate since you will discard cards from your hand thanks to Cryptbreaker (again), Key to the City and Haunted Dead… and it's another way to bring back Prized Amalgam.
The other improvement is Fetid Pools, giving you access to blue sideboard cards more easily and helping with late-game land floods. This deck is not as dedicated to self-discard as Stitches, but has some powerful tools to go with Drake Haven. Key to the City gives a free way to discard cards and trigger both madness and Drake Haven. Speaking of madness, Drake Haven provides cannon fodder to sacrifice to Voldaren Pariah.
If you manage to have Drake Haven in play on turn three along with a Key to the City, you can turn any card in your hand into a 2/2 flyer for one mana, filling your graveyard at the same time. If you ever have a Haunted Dead in the graveyard, bringing it back with four mana will grant you four creatures at once.
Is Drake Haven better than the Liliana, the Last Hope that we cut to play it? Does it fit the mana curve? Does the mana base support it? We'll figure it out soon enough.
The two decks above, Stitches and Black-Blue Zombies are pretty safe bets. They might not be the best Standard decks to come, but they'll be solid. The challenge comes when you step into uncharted territories…
Not stepping too far from our first two decks, here's Snakes and Drakes. The other card I tried to build a Drake Haven deck around is Noose Constrictor. Turning any card from your hand into a 2/2 flying for one mana at any time seems decent, but finding the rest of the deck is much harder – The best self-discard strategies available in standard involve Prized Amalgam and either Haunted Dead or Stitches.
Snakes and Drakes have a lot of cards in common with Stitches. We cut the red discard spells for Vessel of Nascency and the Wild Mongrel / Roar of the Wur… I mean, Noose Constrictor / Honored Hydra package. This strategy has pros and cons compared to the blue-red deck: it won't have any reach (no Fiery Temper) and maybe will have a harder time finding lands. However, it has a much more aggressive plan if you draw a Constrictor and it's not dealt with quickly. Honored Hydra gives you a "free" creature to cast when you're out of gas and it's in your graveyard (it won't trigger Prized Amalgam, though).
Vessel of Nascency lets you dig to find a Drake Haven while milling Zombies and Hydras. Just the Wind buys you a little time to lay out your strategy and in some ways replaces Fiery Temper in terms of tempo. I could see a mix between these two decks. Adding Red to Snakes and Drakes could make sense if the mana can support it.
Let's put the Zombie package aside and move to more cycling-dedicated strategies.
Red provides the best discard spells to help you stay alive while you try to find your Haven (Lightning Axe and Fiery Temper). There's a shell that could work using these spells alongside the blue cycling spells:
This deck aims solely to make tokens, thanks to the 12 cycling spells and pretty much everything else: Lightning Axe, Cathartic Reunion and Bedlam Reveler.
Compelling Argument cycles, but you can also use it to mill yourself, put a bunch of spells in your graveyard to help play Bedlam Reveler and cast a bigger Rise from the Tides. The Reveler will help you refill your hand and find either Drake Haven or Rise from the Tide to win.
I'm not sure how good this deck is, but there's probably something to dig there. With so many spells put in your graveyard, another card to consider is Enigma Drake. It could be quite the monster if you resolve a Compelling Argument. That said, with Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness around I think I'd rather keep the deck removal proof.
I'm not the control expert, but this looks like something people would like to play. Countermagic, Wrath Effects, draw spells… If you get an early Drake Haven out, just make a bunch of blockers until you can Fumigate and swarm the board again. Renewed Faith buys you some time and makes Torrential Gearhulk gain you six life. You have ways to get to your key cards thanks to cycling, and most of your cards can be played on your opponent's turn so they never know what to expect.
I could see this deck flooding hard in the late game, and if you don't have a Haven out, you don't have mana sinks. I don't have the solution to that problem yet, but I'll have to solve it when I have a better idea of how much you need a mana sink. Maybe Pull from Tomorrow could be an option?
Another option, if Mardu is still around, is to add green for extra cycling lands and Dissenter's Deliverance. I could also see a Bant deck with Haze of Pollen to buy some time – the new Fog also works fine with Torrential Gearhulk. It's a little hard to build a control deck when you don't know what the format is going to be, so you can keep this list in mind and start building around it.
That's all the Drake Haven decks I have for you for today. I'm sure there are a lot more of those out there, I'll just need some more time to figure them out!